Having recently completed a Post-Graduate Diploma in Urban Design, it seemed appropriate to write a post on the Blog reflecting upon the discipline.
So, what makes a positive urban experience, and how does the actual design – the layout, orientation, materials, juxtapositions, views etc – of an urban environment actually influence the human beings who live, work and visit it? Can it makes them feel happy or sad, can it make them rich or poor, can it make their lives easier and safer? It seems, to me, a greater measure of a place that people enjoy being there, beyond purely the physical elements, or the visual architectural styles. When explaining ‘landscape character’, I always say it is about all of the ‘senses’, not just the visual; good design is how a place ‘feels’. This is, of course, why water is popular in public realm design as it is considered to have a ‘calming’ effect on users.
The study of urban design also focuses on peoples ‘journey’. How one, as an individual, moves around a place. Design features such as ‘sense of arrival’, ‘nodes’, ‘focal points’, ‘axes’, ‘views’ are all important elements in understanding the urban ‘fabric’. At Liz Lake Associates we strive to incorporate these ‘ingredients’ within our schemes, such as the Heyford Park residential development where, for example, we have included large ‘feature trees’ at the ends of roads to form focal points and orientation markers.
In the diploma, we reflected upon examples of good urban design from the streets of Rome, Paris, and Barcelona. Amongst other things, it is apparent that the ‘layers’ of any urban environment must be able to adapt and evolve if they are to stand the test of time. This is reflected in our heritage and conversation projects at Liz Lake Associates, where we work to retain and restore the best elements of historic landscapes, and adapt others, thus ensuring that the environments can be enjoyed and utilised by generations to come.
Bristol – where our South-West office is located – has a vast combination of historic urban environments and open spaces, as well as contemporary residential and commercial neighbourhoods. It has a growing reputation for looking at urbanism differently, was voted as the ‘Best Place to Live in Britain in March 2014’ (the Sunday Times UK Survey) and is the European Green Capital, 2015. Therefore, it provides a fascinating and inspiring location for any budding Urban Designer or Landscape Architect. Waterfront wharf buildings, once bustling with cargo and trade activities, are now restaurants and cafes, packed with today’s tourists and city-dwellers; they have adapted to the changing needs of the urban population.
Today we are facing different challenges in the disciplines of Urban Design, and Landscape Architecture in particular, with regards to housing demands. At Liz Lake Associates we pride ourselves in producing well-considered and high quality designs, with a strong ‘sense of place’ and ‘identity’, to create a high standard of living for present and future users.
In particular our skills and experience in Landscape Character and Visual Impact Assessments provide an important service to inform new development and that our masterplanning skills can produce a critical framework for individual projects. Furthermore, the increased political debate about development and housing can only serve to raise the profile of Landscape Architecture and Urban Design within the public perception, and thus increase the general understanding of the importance of both professions.